Leica is an interesting company. The German firm has been deeply influential in the development of modern photography and is widely acknowledged as producing some of the finest cameras on the planet. Incredibly expensive, incredibly well-made and incredibly prestigious, Leica enjoys a truly dedicated cult following.
Indeed, Sydney’s very own master watchmaker Nicholas Hacko (who’s also a film camera aficionado) has even dubbed Leica “the Patek Philippe of cameras” – likening the high-end cameras to the world’s most prestigious and valuable watch brand. It’s an apt comparison… But even Hacko would have been surprised to hear the news that Leica was entering the luxury watch game.
You read that right. Leica makes high-end mechanical watches now. Meet the Leica L1 and Leica L2: Germany’s newest luxury watches. Now, we can hear you already. Why would you buy a watch from a camera brand? Just cause they’re good at making cameras, doesn’t mean they’re good at making watches, right?
But these two timepieces are more than just a mere marketing gimmick. Featuring a distinct aesthetic and a boatload of unique features that bring some exciting new things to the table, Leica’s L1 and L2 might just be the most exciting new watch collection we’ve seen so far this year.
First of all, it’s worth pointing out these watches are made in Germany and boast bespoke in-house movements produced in collaboration with independent German watch brand Lehmann. This isn’t a case of Leica just slapping an off-the-shelf ETA 2824 movement into a nice case and asking big bucks for the privilege.
Indeed, the L1 and L2 movements have a feature that’s never been seen on watches before. Normally, you pull out a watch’s crown in order to wind it. With the L1 and L2, you push in the crown. The watches’ crowns feature a red button which you push to stop the movement and adjust the time – the idea being that it mimics the release button of a camera. The small window at 3 o’clock switches from red to white to indicate the button’s status.
This is a clever mechanical innovation that really sets these two watches apart whilst also perfectly reflecting Leica’s history, but the camera-related idiosyncrasies don’t stop there. Between 8 and 9 o’clock, there’s a power reserve indicator, which has two blades that slowly close, like a camera shutter. The crowns are knurled like a camera’s settings dials. The pusher, which is used to cycle through dates on the date window, is also evocative of a camera. Short of actually being able to take photos, the watch is about as close to a Leica camera as you can get.
The L2 model additionally features a GMT function with a compressor-style internal 12-hour bezel which can be adjusted using the crown at 4 o’clock and is supported by a day/night indicator, also at 4 o’clock. Both watches are 41mm in diameter and feature 50m of water resistance plus a 60-hour power reserve.
The L1 and L2’s beautiful hand-wound movements are visible through sapphire crystal casebacks and are truly a sight to behold. Flipping the watch over reveals how their straps feature red backings, continuing that signature Leica black and red colour scheme.
Leica’s cameras are often called pieces of art and we’ve gotta say, the Leica L1/L2 are also pieces of art. They pay homage to their photographic origins in a meaningful way without sacrificing functionality – quite the opposite, really. They strike a perfect balance.
The only tricky bit is the pricing: AU$15,500 for the L1 and AU$22,000 for the L2 (these are indicative prices ahead of the launch, but still). Those are some pretty punchy price points for what are effectively microbrand watches. Maybe Leica fans who are used to shelling out five figures can easily wrap their heads around doing the same for a watch?
For what it’s worth, we reckon the L1/L2 stand on their own merits and represent reasonable value for a high-end timepiece. They’re something different, and sometimes being as staid as Patek Philippe can be a bit tedious…
The Leica L1 and the Leica L2 are currently available at select Leica Stores worldwide, with availability in Australia set for later this year. Find out more at Leica’s webstore here.